The moment when spontaneity and technical expertise coalesce into a decidedly different soundscape is captured convincingly in this eponymous debut release from In Common. Behind that veiled moniker are the prominent names of tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III and guitarist Matthew Stevens – and together with vibraphonist Joel Ross, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Marcus Gilmore, they fashion striking improvisations from original compositional foundations.
“Walter and I had been talking about putting a recording session together” explains Stevens, “and decided to go into the studio with music that could be quickly interpreted with an interesting group of musicians and to let it unfold naturally from there.” The resulting sessions yielded an unaffected and dynamic recording by a group of peers sharing a mutual musical vocabulary. “Part of the basis for the project was to write relatively simple music,” says Smith. “The idea of simplicity downplayed individual ownership which was liberating.” The outcome is a collection of succinct, in-the-moment canvases that exhibit an engaging contemporary style.
Preceded by ‘freefive’, an improvised piece that captures the intangible moments that can arise between improvisers, Stevens’ ‘Unsung’ celebrates the overlooked in our society in a poignant song illuminated by Ross’s vibes. ‘YINZ’ – Pittsburgh’s version of ‘y’all’ – allows plenty of ducking and diving; and levitational ‘foreword’ centers around a rich duet between Smith and Ross.
The offbeat, almost Bachian ground of ‘ACE’ becomes filled out by Smith’s rich tenor, while ‘Baron’ is buoyed by syncopated drums and lush, animated guitar. Mysteriously striding ‘13th Floor’ contrasts with breezy ‘About 360’ and in tribute to the late Geri Allen, her ‘Unconditional Love’ is elegantly painted in new light.
The success of In Common’s informal collaboration is in creating a work that is unmistakeably alive and instinctive.